Friday, December 31, 2010

Final thoughts for 2010

On the way out the door for the year....

The Panthers made it official on Friday, announcing in a release that John Fox and his staff won't be back next season. There. they finally said it. We knew it was coming, but now it's official. Interesting they did it:
1-on a holiday Friday,
2-immediately following the Meineke Car Care Bowl,
3-while the Bobcats were playing Golden State (with Charlotte native Steph Curry on the floor).

Couple ways to look at this. One way is, maybe they were trying to grab a headline or two in the midst of a busy sports day in Charlotte, or they were hoping it would be a minor footnote of the day, and get lost in the shuffle.

Well, it won't be lost in the shuffle, and as a result, the Panthers are on the clock for the first pick, but now to also hire a new head coach. Then there is the other clock. The labor deal clock, which Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is also on. Once the season ends, Richardson will be on of the key figures in trying to broker a deal between the NFL and the NFLPA on a new collective bargaining agreement. The off-season will be interesting to watch on a number of levels.

Bobcats brief win streak ended Friday in a 96-95 loss to the Warriors, Stephen Jackson missing a game winning 3 at the buzzer. I think he could have driven to the cup to try and draw a foul, but given the lack of calls Jackson has gotten this season, maybe he was a little gun shy about trying that. Regardless, the Bobcats get the Three Amigos from Miami on Monday (Lebron, D-Wade, and Bosh), which will be a good measuring stick as to where the Bobcats are. The Heat have figured things out, and had a monster December. Should be fun.

Sat through the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Friday afternoon. Sparse crowd on a great day, but hats off to the Raycom folks for putting on a decent game. Clemson lived up to their end in spurts, but overall, the show was what we've come to expect from the Charlotte bowl game.

Lastly, expect some changes in college football following the UNC finish in Nashville on Thursday. The Heels, out of timeouts, spiked the ball with :01 left in the game, and got flagged for too many men on the field. As a result, they had plenty of time to kick a tying field goal, force overtime, and then beat Tennessee by 3.

The change will likely come with that sort of penalty resulting in a clock run off. I don't think the Heels did this intentionally--they truly looked lost, and confused. Still, now that teams know this can happen to their advantage, I think the NCAA will bring in a rule change. Props to UNC for hanging tough, but I think they got lucky due to the rulebook.

Enough from me, here's to a great 2011 for all sports teams in our state, and even the ones you may root for elsewhere!

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What a week on tap!

From bowl games to basketball, to the end of the NFL regular season, to hockey, it's a huge week. Make sure you check out Sports Night every night at 10 to get caught up with all of it!

OK, Charlotte Bobcats made their debut under new interim coach Paul Silas on Monday, beating Detroit 105-100. It all sounds good until you realize, the Bobcats led by as many as 23, and saw that trimmed down to 3 in the closing seconds.

I'm not criticizing. For a team on a four-game slide, any win is pretty. They will get the errors cleaned up (all agreed there was no quick fix after Larry Brown's departure), but the thing that is most noticeable is the fact the team PLAYED the4 game, rather than worked through 48 minutes. I mean no disrespect to Larry Brown, but there was a huge difference in the way the Bobcats played Monday as opposed to the 28 previous games . They were relaxed, they were flying up and down the floor, they were above the rim, they were taking shots. They PLAYED the game. Certainly a welcome sight for those watching, and I'm guessing an even better feeling for the guys in uniform.

They still have work to do to get into the playoffs, but this was a giant step in the right direction, if for nothing else, than believing they can do it.

Carolina Panthers are officially on the clock. They hold the number 1 pick in next April's NFL Draft. We all know who the experts would take if he were available, and since there is no guarantee he will be, I'll not mention him by name. He has to declare his intentions before January 15th. No point in thinking about it until he makes up his mind.

I'll be in Atlanta this weekend for the season finale for the Panthers. If for nothing else, to see how this team plays in their final game of a 2-13 (to date) season. This has been fascinating to watch, and frustrating to cover. What amazes me the most is the way the players just don't stop. They haven't stopped giving effort. Good effort. It's astounding that in a game like baseball, if a team is eliminated from the playoff chase early (like the Chicago Cubs historically), the guys in uniform can just kinda mail it in. You never really know how hard a guy is trying in baseball, unless it's obvious. In football, there is nowhere to hide. The Panthers of 2010 will be remembered for a losing season, but they should also be remembered as a team they fought until the end, no matter what the standings said.

Lots going on with bowl games--4 games in 4 days involving North Carolina. Tuesday, NC State v. West Virginia in Orlando, Wednesday, ECU v. Maryland in Washington DC., Thursday, UNC v. Tennessee in Nashville, and Friday, the Meineke Car Care Bowl between Clemson and South Florida. We'll have you covered, so don't miss a thing on Sports Night!

Mike Solarte

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas....the Sports Poem

Serving up your Christmas gift on Christmas Eve. Hope you enjoy our version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

'Twas the night before Christmas
and all through the land,
Teams are getting rested,
A tough schedule is at hand.

The Carolina Panthers
stuck in their rut.
Beaten by the Steelers,
24 points, a tough punch in the gut.

There will be big changes,
no need to ask.
John Fox will be gone,
for the next coach, a tough task.

On the NBA hardwood,
Paul Silas is back.
Larry Brown shown the door,
as recent play made us gack.

Only 2 days into the change
the players were all smiles.
Turning around a losing streak,
could make the switch worthwhile.

On the ice are the Hurricanes,
dropping their last two.
Players and coaches hoping,
pucks will find their way through.

All of the college hoops fans,
ready for their time.
It's the ACC season,
get ready to shine.

So on Roy, and Coach K,
Bzdelik and Sidney too.
The time for you is now,
to help March come into view.

From the 49ers to the Checkers,
and all teams in between.
We have but one wish,
simple as it will seem.

Continue your successes,
and always fight the good fight.
We'll do our best to cover you,
every day on Sports Night.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Missed opportunities

By the title, you may think this is another blog about the Carolina Panthers season gone wrong, but it's not. This is about the Charlotte Bobcats.

Wednesday, Larry Brown stepped down as Head Coach of the team, and within 3 hours, Paul Silas was tabbed as the interim Head Coach. Silas is a resident in the Charlotte area, but wasn't available for comment Wednesday. He will be available to media on Thursday following practice.
General Manager Rod Higgins was available for comment, and as some members of the local media were inside Time Warner Cable Arena for any potential announcements, and interviews, there were none to be had. Instead, the team announced Higgins was available via teleconference only. This while Higgins was also inside Time Warner Cable Arena.

This was a chance for the Bobcats, a team that the city of Charlotte has been slow to embrace, to eliminate the moat that separates them from the fan base. OK, maybe not eliminate it, but at least lower the drawbridge to allow the fans to feel closer to them. Opportunity missed.

Bobcats players were also out in the community Wednesday night, handing out Christmas gifts to kids that are less fortunate. They were at a Salvation Army center in the city. Those players were only allowed to talk about the event they were at, and not about the news that directly affected their jobs. Opportunity missed.

Sports fans in Charlotte have had to deal with a football team that has been dreadful in the standings. They try hard, but they don't have the same level of talent, top to bottom, as their opponents. 2-12 with 2 games to go is the result. The person who has taken the blame for that is team owner Jerry Richardson, and he has been unavailable to the media all season long, except for an appearance he made when the PGA of America announced the PGA Championship was coming to Quail Hollow Club. Other than that, it's been radio silence.

Fans in this town have already had to deal with one pro team putting distance between themselves and the fans, and now they have another operating under a veil of secrecy. This wasn't a decision made by Higgins. He said, in that teleconference, that team owner Michael Jordan met with Brown face-to-face, and they mutually agreed this was the best direction to go in. Jordan was unavailable for comment as he was "traveling," according to Higgins.

Basketball fans WANT to embrace the Bobcats. They really do, especially since Jordan became the majority owner. They want to be involved in the greatness that is the MJ brand. The Bobcats had a lay-up. Maybe even a break-away dunk to bring the fans closer to the team, on a day that the team needed to be held a little. Changing coaches is never an easy thing. They blew the lay up. The hammered the dunk off the back of the rim. They missed.

Too bad, because a little good PR goes a very long way.

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The streak ends....well, ended,

I came up 294 blogs short of matching Brett Favre's streak of consecutive starts, but since he plays once a week, technically the streak lives on. Just roughly 5 more years of blogging once a week. I'll let you know how that works out.

Panthers picked up win number 2, in what will likely be the final home game coached by John Fox for Carolina. Way too early to be talking about the next guy to lead the franchise, and frankly, Fox deserves better. I still maintain he deserved more support from the front office (read ownership), but as he would say, it is what it is.

Fox doesn't show a soft side all that often, but his underbelly was exposed after the 19-12 win over Arizona. If you saw his postgame comments on News 14 Carolina, you saw Fox reach for the bottle of water on the table when things were getting a little misty. Good for him. It's a 9-year run that will end with his worst record as a football coach. Not a Head Coach, but a football coach. He has NEVER gone through a season where he was a coach on a team that suffered double digit losses. It began in the off-season when the team gutted veteran players, guys Fox trusted. It will end badly, and that's the part that hurts the most.

A Thursday night meeting with Pittsburgh is on tap next for the Panthers. Just 2 to play, but if there is an up-side to playing Thursday, it is that the team will get Christmas off. I'll be with the Panthers when they close out the season against Atlanta on January 2.

The Charlotte Bobcats have shown flashes that they can be a good team. Problem is, those flashes have been overshadowed by stretches when they aren't playing so well. The latest display of that coming Monday night when they were blown out by the Washington Wizards (with a record of 7-19 after the win). The final of 108-75 marking the 3rd time in their last 5 games they fall by 30 or more points. Gerald Wallace was out of the lineup for the third straight game, but that doesn't make up for the blowouts. Something is missing here. There is an element with this team that wasn't here a year ago, when the Bobcats were winning games, setting the high-water mark for wins in a season, and making their first playoff appearance. Thing is, the personnel, hasn't changed very dramatically. It's puzzling, because Larry Brown didn't become a bad coach overnight. The players didn't become bad players overnight. Something is missing, and even though it's late December (already?), time is starting to get away from the Bobcats on this season. Having suffered through loss after loss with the Panthers, I'm hoping covering the Bobcats in the 2nd half of the year will be more fun that the fall was.

Congrats to Mike Krzyzewski for tying legendary coach Dean Smith with 879 wins. One of the highlights of my career was being in Winston-Salem when Dean surpassed Adolph Rudd for the top spot (Bobby Knight would surpass Dean later). A record like this means the coach has shown a wonderful ability to recruit, and then coach the talent. It is also a testament to staying committed to the program. In a day when coaches leap-frog from one job the the next, guys like K, Smith, Roy Williams (he counts as well), show just how important it is to be committed to the job, the university, the players, and the program.

Will try to hit the blog once more before Christmas, perhaps looking at the Panthers-Steelers, a Bobcats update, and maybe even a poem.

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sorry, but I'm not pumped about #1 pick

So you really want the number one overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft? You want that pick because that player will be the one to turn your franchise around? This reminder...

For every Toy Aikman (1989), there is a Tim Couch (1999). For every Peyton Manning (1998), there is a Jamarcus Russell (2007). For every Orlando Pace (1997), there is a Kenneth Sims (1982). For every Eli Manning (2004), there is a KiJana Carter (1995).

Basically, there are no guarantees that the number one overall pick in the draft will amount to anything.

There is plenty of reason to think that the potential number 1 pick next April, Andrew Luck from Stanford, will remain at Stanford for his junior season. He was runner-up in Heisman Trophy balloting, and there are the obvious 2-sides to the argument of staying in school, vs. going pro. He'll make the best decision for himself, be sure of that. But what is that best decision? Let's help him out.

Andrew, you'll be a senior, in command of a Stanford program that went 11-1 this year, with the only loss coming at the hands of national champion contender Oregon. You'll lead your team against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. There are no guarantees that the Cardinal will enjoy the same success in 2011, but there is one certainty: the Cardinal WILL have a season, without a doubt in 2011. Being the senior starting QB at a PAC-10 school can't be all bad, especially in California. About the only drawbacks are going to classes, the occasional rainy day, and...well, I can't think of anything else. The biggest question mark hovering over you and your program is Head Coach Jim Harbaugh's status. Will he stay, or jump to either Michigan or the NFL?

Andrew, this is where it gets tricky. Going pro means you play football for a living. It means instead of going to class, you go to practice, then lift, then film study. Then, you repeat. It becomes a job, and it's one that you will love, I can tell. The payoff comes in the form of a contract, and it will be a biggie from whichever team selects you. You'll get a big signing bonus, guaranteeing that you will be financially secure. You'll get a multi-year contract as well, which will certainly go a long way around the holidays when picking out the perfect gift for someone special. There are drawbacks, though. There is the never ending scrutiny of being the top overall pick (which you will face whether you stay in school or come out early). There will be pressure for you to succeed quickly, because that is what's expected of the top overall pick. The general fan doesn't know how difficult it is to make that transition from college to pro. They will only see your price tag, and demand excellence from the second you step off the plane to your welcome-to-town press conference.

Oh yeah, one other thing. There may not even be a season for you in 2011, if the NFL and NFLPA don't reach a labor agreement.

That's a lot to think about for a guy that just turned 21, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The Carolina Panthers are in the running for the top overall pick, and based on how they gutted this roster of its leadership, and replaced those players with younger and cheaper options, it begs the question of would Luck even WANT to play in Carolina if taken by the Panthers?

To paraphrase The Clash, "Should he stay or should he go?"

Mike Solarte

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NFL thoughts on a Tuesday

I know, hold back your excitement. It's blogs on consecutive days. Call me inspired by Brett Favre.

Yes, I have ripped Favre for his on again, off again, "am I playing, or retiring," fence-riding in the past, but the consecutive games played streak came to a halt in, of all places, Detroit, for a Vikings home game.

For posterity, I will point out that the Minnesota-NY Giants game scheduled for Sunday, Dec 12, 2010, was moved to Detroit after the roof at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, wilted under heavy snows and high winds. The building was unusable, and the NFL moved the game to Detroit, and rescheduled it for Monday, Dec. 13.

Even with the delay of over 30 hours, Favre still was unable to get his body well enough to take the field. He was inactive for the first time in 19 seasons, and possibly in his entire NFL career (couldn't find anything on his early playing days in Atlanta). So, Favre falls 3 games shy of 300 straight starts, but the 297 number will likely hold up for a very long time, if not all time.

Let's put this in perspective with a little timeline. When Favre's streak began, it was September 27th, 1992. Miley Cyrus hadn't been born yet, and Nick Jonas was 11 days old. "Unforgiven" won the Oscar for Best Film, and Jay Leno was just over 4 months into his first run as host of the "The Tonight Show" (I'm glad Conan is back on, by the way).

Recent college graduates have never known an NFL without Brett Favre. Those same people are likely unaware that Favre played 2 games for the Atlanta Falcons, before going to the Green Bay Packers, where it all began.

As Panther fans know, the QB position is not an easy one to play. They have seen their QB's struggle this season, and even Jake Delhomme struggled in 2009. Favre played at a very high level for much of his career, only tapering off in the last 5 years. His longevity is something that is hard to fathom. All we can do is appreciate it, and applaud it. Favre's career, this time, appears to be over. It would stand to reason he has nothing to come back and play for. But we'll be watching out for the drama next August, just in case.

Other NFL news, NY Jets strength coach Sal Alosi has been suspended for the remainder of the season, for tripping Miami Dolphins special teamer Nolan Carroll. To Alosi's credit, he owned up to it without hesitation. Video replays show the trip clearly, he couldn't refute it. Why did he do it? Even he doesn't know. In the end, the NFL and the Jets made the right move by suspending him, and not firing him (although that could come later). Alosi is a 9 year NFL coach, 8 of those spent with the Jets. Before this weekend, had you ever heard his name? I'm not sure he was even part of "Hard Knocks" this pre-season. My point is, the guy doesn't have a history of this. He's not a guy that causes trouble. He made a mistake, that luckily, didn't cost anyone their season due to injury. I understand the outcry, but they handled it. He's been punished, let's move on.

Speaking of moving on, the outrage over Michael Vick autographing a glove for Tashard Choice following heir Sunday night game in Dallas is mind boggling. Really? Let's point out, the signing of a glove is small potatoes to some of the things I have seen on the field after games. Jerseys have been exchanged (NFL authentic jerseys aren't cheap. If you have ever priced them out, you know). It happens. Whether it be for personal collections, or charitable donations, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Choice told reporters the signed glove was for a family member. Pretty cool deal. I don't get why people were so upset by this whole thing. Is it that a player got a star player's autograph on the field? Is it because it looks like Choice was bowing down to the QB that beat his team? Or maybe it's this.

Maybe people are so upset that Michael Vick has a job in the NFL, that Vick signing anything but apology letters is a waste of ink.

Is that you? If so, I weep for you. Michael Vick has gone through several phases of his NFL journey. First, he was Vick the scrambling QB. Not much on accuracy, but he could break contain like no other. I once said he was a running back that took snaps. He was the blueprint for the Wildcat package.

Then Vick became the villain. The guy that ran with the wrong crowd, used his millions to finance an illegal dog fighting operation, even going so far as to kill dogs that didn't perform in the ring. Heinous crimes. Personally, I despise Vick for that phase of his life. His entire life would suffer as a result, as he went to prison. He served his time. He tried to rehabilitate.

The third phase of the Vick NFL experience is what we are watching now. A guy that has stayed out of trouble. A guy that tried to reach out to show those that despised him (like me), that he has changed. How much he has changed, only he knows. What I see is a guy trying to be a model citizen off the field, and a good football player on it. He's been better than good on the field. He has never thrown the ball this well in his career. My wife even commented Sunday that this isn't the Vick she saw before. He's gone from superb athlete playing quarterback, to pretty good quarterback. He's still a gifted athlete, but now he is playing the position about as well as he ever has.

I hate the middle portion of the journey, but I have to give credit where its due. Vick is making a believer out of me that some people deserve a second chance. Vick is taking full advantage of this one, as a player and as a person. Give the hate a rest.

Mike Solarte

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday rear-view Mirror

Let me start with the positives. Saturday was a wonderful (albeit cold and rainy) day at Carter-Finley Stadium for State Championship football. Congrats to Butler, West Rowan, and Northern Guilford on winning the 4-AA, 3-A and 3-AA titles in Raleigh respectfully. Butler and West Rowan won handily, but Northern Guilford edged Boiling Springs Crest 21-20. An exciting game, with a tough finish for the Chargers, thanks to a missed PAT in the final 15 seconds. I applaud all the players and coaches for their efforts, not just on Championship Saturday, but all season long. Thanks to each and every coach and player that allowed us on their sidelines this past season. We had a blast covering the year, and hope you enjoyed our coverage on the Discount Tire Friday Night Final.

Now, to the ugliness.

The Carolina Panthers loss 31-10 to the Atlanta Falcons dropped their record to 1-12, 3 games to go, the most winnable of them coming at Bank of America Stadium this Sunday when Arizona rolls in. Will they win? Who knows, but the is no disputing the frustration levels are now at an all-time high. Steve Smith isn't happy with Jimmy Clausen. Jordan Gross isn't happy with being told the team is "young, and they try really hard." John Fox isn't happy about losing. The media isn't happy about covering a team that is brutally overmatched each week, because the plan set in motion by ownership was to sacrifice the season in the name of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement. Don't believe what I have been writing in this space all season long? John Lynch, TV analyst during Sunday's game, said, "I see a team that has been preparing for the lockout for the last couple of years."

I have tried to give ownership the benefit of the doubt, but the 60+ players that have worn the uniform for the Panthers this season, especially the guys that have been around for a while, deserved better. Jerry Richardson's letter to PSL owners was nice, but it's not enough. Richardson, not GM Marty Hurney, not Fox, not the players, is the one responsible for this mess. All folks underneath him are working on orders, and the orders come from above. This embarrassing season falls squarely on his shoulders. How the franchise bounces back from this will determine how he is remembered. Coming into 2010, Richardson was revered in the community. That perception has changed, in a very big way thanks to the events of this season. I have applauded him in the past for being a "behind-the-scenes" owners, but when times are tough, the right thing to do to face the music, and not hide in the shadows.

Panthers fans, PSL owners, and the like are certainly hoping that the sacrifices of the season in 2010 will pay off in 2011...or 2012.

The Charlotte Bobcats are looking more and more like a dysfunctional family. It's to the point that team owner Michael Jordan gave his team a verbal beating after a blowout loss to Boston on Saturday night. Bobcats back home to meet Toronto on Tuesday night, when MJ will be inducted into the NC Sports Hall of Fame at halftime. The Bobcats are at a critical point in the season. They can ill afford to continue to lose games, as they will lose ground in a very bad Eastern Conference. The Bobcats can be a playoff team, but they need to get things sorted out, and from the sound of it, it comes down to effort. Effort is something this franchise has been known for, from day one. Bobcats, be who you are, not what you think you are. Be the hard-working team that the city has come to expect. That's what they were last season.

You also have Cam Newton winning the Heisman Trophy. I have no problem with that. In fact, I voted for him. I got the order wrong, in sports 2-3, but I had Newton winning it. What I find disturbing is the fact that 105 of my fellow voters didn't vote for Newton in any spot (1-2-3). They omitted him from their ballots altogether. The Heisman goes to college football's most outstanding player. So according to the 105 voters, he was, at worst, the 4th best player in the country.

Sorry, but that's a joke.

As a Heisman voter, it's my duty to vote for the best players in America, regardless of my opinion of whether or not they broke a rule. If the player is in good standing with the NCAA, they are eligible to receive the Heisman. Cam Newton is in good standing with the NCAA. He was the best player in college football. Period. He got my vote.

Now, my personal belief is that Cam Newton knew all along that his father was up to no good, but SO FAR, there is no PROOF that Cam was involved. There is a chance that Newton won't hold onto that Heisman somewhere down the road, and that will be his shame to deal with if and when that happens. I used my ballot, and did so according to the ground rules laid out.

Mike Solarte

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy Tuesday

Have been getting e-mails about the Panthers coaching situation after this season. Who will be the coach, what happens to the staff, etc. I'm not smart enough to figure out who it will be, but there is talk about Jim Harbaugh from Stanford, or even Brian Schottenheimer being candidates. Those are rumors, of course, and the reality about rumors is this:they can get around the world twice in the morning, before the truth even opens its eyes.

I will say this, and I know it's not original, but John Fox won't be back next season. It's time for a split., and it's sad it has come to this. It's been a solid 9-year run, but all good things must come to an end. Fox and most of his staff will likely be elsewhere, and there are players that will likely finish 2010 as a Panther and not return. It's the nature of the game.

I do not, however, subscribe to the notion of tanking the season for the first overall pick in the draft. That's just dumb. It's bad enough the team was put in a tough spot to being the year, but to then tell those players that are grinding it every week, to lay down so the franchise can land the number 1 overall pick? Talk about setting a bad example for future potential players. This season can be chalked up to ownership going cheap and young to try and set and example for other owners in the league with the CBA expiring, and the threat of a lockout looming.

Heisman balloting is closed, I got my votes in, and I went with Cam Newton, then Kellen Moore, followed by Andrew Luck. Newton was far and away the best player in college football, and it wasn't even close. I based my vote on the body of work, and not the talk of wrong doing. Between the lines, he was the best player in the nation, period. I didn't hold Boise State's schedule against Kellen Moore. Bottom line, you have to produce to get results, and he did that for Boise. Andrew Luck is only scratching the surface of how good he can be. Problem for Stanford is he'll figure out the rest of it in the NFL.

FYI, 18 days until Christmas. 75 days until the Daytona 500.

Mike Solarte

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Clearing the Clutter

Spraying to all fields:

Carolina Panthers have endured a difficult season, sitting 1-10 with their next stop out west in Seattle. I won't go into my diatribe about how this team was set up for failure (lack of veteran leaders to show the young guys the ropes), but I will commend every guy that puts the pads on for the organization, as well as the coaches. They REFUSE to lay down their sword. John Fox won't say this out loud, because of their record, but this might be his best coaching work. Offensively, Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, Jimmy Clausen and others, are rookies on offense. Greg Hardy, Eric Norwood are rookies on defense, plus a host of new faces brought in to take on the season.

Youth is no excuse, but it is a very valid reason why this team is struggling, but to their credit, they are improving, and still playing hard. That's a testament to their strength and will, and it is also a testament to Fox and his staff. They are still working to win games, and most of all, the players are still on board with it. Sadly, it's almost as if the players are resigned to their fate (record-wise), but they still believe in their leader. As tough as this season has been, these players have made it as fun as possible with their attitude, and their effort.

Charlotte Bobcats forward Stephen Jackson will miss Wednesday night's game against New Orleans due to a 1-game suspension by the NBA. Jackson's crime: not leaving the court in a timely fashion after being ejected in Milwaukee. Once again, NBA referee's showing little to no respect for the players and coaches , now that they have the "no showing up the officials" card in their back pocket. The ref in question, Eli Roe, is young in terms of NBA experience. According to the site (it's basically a blog), Roe had over 50+ games of NBA experience at its last update (mid June of this year). Roe was also voted, according to the site, as the ref "to most likely to choke to death on his own whistle." Rave review, right?

The NBA has to revisit this policy. How is Dwight Howard among the league leaders in technical fouls? I understand how Jackson is, and there is not doubt in my mind, Jackson is a mark for refs. To me, they are looking for him to do something. Problem is, Jackson usually obliges them with some form of discussion, but that doesn't mean Jackson is wrong. Respect is a 2-way street. NBA referees, young or old, need to remember that.

Speaking of officials, I love the uproar over the fight between Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan over the weekend. Neither player was suspended, both were fined $25,000 for the altercation. Folks wanting them to be suspended are reaching. Let's remember, this is an emotional and very physical game. Johnson felt Finnegan was taking liberties, and finally retaliated (video shows that to be the case). Things happen in the heat of battle. The league stepped in, took action, that's it. Finnegan is actually lucky he wasn't suspended, considering he is a repeat offender.

Adding this at 8:25 pm tonight, want to mention a conversation I had with injured Panthers WR Wallace Wright on Wednesday, and he gave me something else to think about here. Earlier Wednesday, Panthers safety Sherrod Martin was fined $40,000 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland TE Evan Moore on Sunday. Stiff penalty, based on Martin being a repeat offender of the head-to-head knocks. But is $40K justified when 2 players were actually fighting? According to Wallace, the fighting penalties should have been stiffer, to curb that behavior in the future. I agree, to an extent, with Wallace. The fine didn't fit the crime on Martin, especially when reviewing the game tape.

High school football nears an end, state semi-final Friday on tap this week, with championship games next weekend. Hope you check out the Discount Tire Friday Night Final to see all the action this week, and our state championship previews next week.

Mike Solarte